“Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You”: Historiography and Active Learning Assignments in the Introductory History Classroom

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sarah Elizabeth Shurts, Bergen Community College
Introductory level survey courses, particularly in the community college, have been seen primarily as vehicles for delivering the content we believed was necessary before students could grapple with the larger questions in the field and the scholarship that addresses them. For many educators, this means a teaching style dependent on lecture. While this approach does convey historical content efficiently, it does not introduce students to the complexity of historical knowledge or the work of the discipline. Even those interested in pulling back the curtain to share with students how historians “do” history often fear delving into historiography with introductory students and hesitate to move beyond the controlled lecture to more active learning.

 I will start by sharing how I have introduced scholarship in a way that is highly accessible and engaging for introductory students. This is done by crafting the course around a series of historical questions for each time period. These questions are the starting point for students to move into the work of historians by learning how historians ask questions and reading excerpts from primary sources and secondary scholarship that specifically address the questions. The second half of my discussion will share the active learning assignments that engage students with the historical questions in creative ways. These active learning assignments are interactive, collaborative assignments that engage students not only with the textbook, source material, and classroom instruction but also with one another. I’ll share several of these activities with the panel audience and give a quick overview of the others including debates, mini-trials, mock interviews, pair-shares, question round-robins, fabrication of letters, diary entries, propaganda posters, memorials and petitions, film analysis, games, peer quizzes, four square defense, causation top it, and mini book reviews. The final discussion will explore the alternative assessment approaches for these active learning assignments.

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